That time I got jealous of the “other” women’s ministry

I haven’t written a blog post for a long time. It’s partly because I had a lot going on. I started up a ministry, and so much of my written output was dedicated to it. I also began a non-profit, and once again, writing and editing and blog writing time was prioritized to that space. I finished my degree and have now started a PhD, the beginning of which made me feel so dense and ignorant of the world; and made me doubt my writing ability to such a degree that I simply no longer wanted to write. In fact, today’s blog topic is something that has been circling my head for a while but I just didn’t feel like I could express myself adequately. Additionally, It is something I am still currently coming to terms with, and wondered if it would not have been better for me to write about it after coming out of the fire, so to speak.

But I’m going to be honest: I’ve been suffering from spiritual jealousy for a few months. Usually, when Christians are jealous or envious of another Christian it’s normally because of a testimony: as in, church folk love to sensationalise life stories, and so people who weren’t gang leaders, bank robbers, queen of the prostitutes or world-wide drug smugglers still on the FBI Most Wanted List feel that their ordinary-joe, born-and-raised-in-the-church stories are not needed as sharing material. However, the jealousy I’ve been suffering from is more subtle, and also more harmful, because at its core is selfishness.

As I said in the opening, I started a ministry: Esther Magazine, in September 2014. It was actually a desire of mine to combine my passion for women’s rights/feminism and writing, since 2011, but chronic procrastination, team restructures, personal discouragement and mild suspicion from other church people delayed the process. We launched humbly, went viral in March 2015, and have since  enjoyed a supportive WordPress and social media following. It’s the support–or lack thereof–from church members that has blighted this success. I’ll stress again the selfishness of my position, because it is important for me to bear this in mind as I explain: the attitude we’ve received from church folk has been subtly negative: I have received no poison pen letters or Facebook private messages denouncing the magazine, on the contrary; I have had messages from people saying that they are encouraged by what I am doing for God. However, there is a pattern I’ve noticed via social media that has made me realise that we are mainly supported in private, but people in general are not wholly accepting of our method.

The Adventist Church has understandably been socialised by a spirit of suspicion. In the aftermath of Waco, anyone who decides to establish a self-supporting ministry are interrogated: “why don’t you want to do a ministry within your church?” “why do you have to be independent?” “why not get clearing from the church board first and let everyone get involved?” This is testament of a people who have had their lives ripped apart by fringe groups and independents, but also speaks volumes of the administrative and bureaucratic  nature of church these days: people no longer believe you can do anything for God without first going through official church protocol, which is sad and puts God in a box. Coupled with our “feminist” slant, it’s unsurprising if people don’t trust us. I can only draw conclusions to how I feel when I compare Esther’s social media response to other women’s ministries, of which there are many. They all serve different purposes and are geared towards different needs, however.

A few months before Esther went live, another women’s ministry also set up by young women was launched. It’s a great one, and they use Wordpress too. Often, I have seen church men—my friends both on and off Facebook—re-post the articles from this ministry and comment enthusiastically. We at Esther re-post our own things constantly, but the same men appear not to notice. When I see that one of the articles on Esther has been re-posted, I know that one of my personal friends have done so. Esther was launched to raise awareness of women’s rights issues and begin a dialogue with men and women in our churches to engage with issues that are often side-lined but reinforced within church culture. So far, this engagement has been minimal at best and non-existent at worst. Particular people who I have hoped would read the material don’t, or they don’t show it publicly if they do.  One of these men, who I know holds some extremely problematic views of women, has told me that he read an article and was touched by it, but he never shared it. The people who don’t engage with the Esther articles will share the material from the other ministry. I feel as though people agree with some of our output, but they are apprehensive to be seen showing support. You see what I mean when I said my feelings were entirely selfish? I really am displaying the worst symptoms of social media illnesses: basing my worth and my talents off of shares and likes

Obviously, some mention of what makes a respectable woman is necessary here. There is a social script that a woman is supposed to perform in church, and banging on about women’s rights goes against it. The only thing, though, is that the jealousy I have felt has made me direct my negative energies towards the other ministry in question. They produce great articles and do great things, but for a while I told myself I would no longer look at their site. I did not want to read their articles. I didn’t even want to like their Page. Suddenly, I had made our ministries into rivals, battling it out for male support. How silly  is that? Not wanting to make men into the enemy, but a lot of the time women are made to feel validated, their actions justified, by the male support and favour they receive. The angry churn I get in the pit of stomach is never directed towards the women on my Facebook ; it only makes itself known whenever I see a church brother share the articles from the other ministry; when I see the words of support the other ministry appears to be over-ladled with. I read a blog written by a friend in which she quoted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s  comments on women and competition. I think it’s relevant to this, so I’ll quote it too:

We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.

I wonder if I have been a victim of this practice? Of course, how I feel is very self-centered, but church men will heap a lot of praise on the women they feel are adhering to the feminine role they are supposed to play. It seems as if a woman who talks too much is dangerous.

I don’t think I describe an isolated experience. There may be many people who have gone into ministries and wondered why they are never part of the popular number; or why people don’t seem as overjoyed by what they are doing in comparison to someone else. The important thing to remember is that we are all in the same boat; we’re playing for the same team. If we all fully understood that we have an individual task, which is to share the Good News, let people know that they have a Saviour who loves them and his coming again, there would be no time or need for rivalry. Church folk wouldn’t make celebrities out of singers and preachers; they wouldn’t engage in church politics with individuals because they “speak too much truth” or whatever else is annoying them for that season. They would concentrate on their relationships with Christ.

Through writing this, I feel I have begun a healing process, to see this other ministry as what it is: a ministry that is drawing others to Christ. Ministries are not there for support and approval, otherwise they would just be side-projects and businesses. Those of us in ministry should always bear in mind that we are doing spiritual work, to serve others and spread the gospel. I am so grateful for all God has done for me in my personal life and in Esther—even allowing me to engage with others from different denominations and religions. Last month we had a Back to Basics theme and it really improved my personal study, devotional and prayer life. I’ve never felt closer to God than when I began Esther.

It’s time to stop focusing on me, me, me and start looking at God’s children out there in the world that are hurting and need to hear a positive message. It’s time to stop seeing myself as others see me (unless it is for positive growth), and start being confident in the person God is making me to be.

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9

For nine months you’ll watch the sunrise of your stomach
a perfect arch rising, casting rays across your skin
like silken ripples. You’ll look at these birth prints of your sun
during dusk time with wistful regret, soothing your skin
with bio oil, palmer’s cocoa butter,
any remedy from old women on verandas as they cackle
to the clack clack clack of domino tiles.
You’ll see movement on your stomach.
Tiny hands waving over your skin from the inside
where it’s dark and the sky’s uncertain
but for you and others it’ll be a thing of miracles
of a life inside a life, both fighting for the day.
The dawn will break like a tsunami and the flood will overturn everything you knew:
your strength, which you thought was small, will reach transcendent heights
on that hospital bed;
your voice, that to you was meaningless, will scream along with
the new cries of birth, reassuring everyone that
you’d both made it safe;
your heart, that to you was already content, will be indescribable.
And then comes the recovery:
red fingerprints on your new wall paper;
smashed plates
night howls
tantrums
new teeth
“a-big-person-in-a-little-person’s-body” moments
liking breakfast, then hating breakfast
wanting dessert for dinner
blue tongue from rotten sweets
trips to the dentist; drills and accusing stares
childhood, in a bundle: a racket, a mess, a stress, a love, a joy, a pest
before you’re in the whirlwind of spring
pacing the floor over first dates
locked drawers
sign posts on room doors…
but those things aren’t important because they’re dreaded and adolescent
the rays of your dawn are stretching ever outward
across skin, fabric, time money clothes and patience
but your love grows like fire
intensifies, recedes, washes, surrounds
like the waves of the sea
Your love reflects the joy of your sun, just as the moon dances in space, the only presence of light in the darkness of night.
Your love cannot stretch because you’re a mother
and your heart is already full.

When your will takes over your logic

It’s been ages. Last post was in February! But I was finishing my degree and for a little while I just lost the drive to meditate and think about blog posts, even though I have loads of drafts and ideas written on my phone. I completed my undergraduate degree in Sociology in May, and my graduation will be some time in September/October, so I have lots of time to think, read, write and catch up on various things that had to be put on hold. Today is also the last day of a  fast that I’ve been doing since Monday, so I can get some clarifications about my career and life goals. I’ll try to keep you all updated.

This week, I’ve been thinking about the will, and how closely it’s linked to pride. On Sunday, I went to my surrogate mother’s house for morning prayers, and we reflected on how God will go to any length—no matter how ridiculous to us—to save us from ourselves. He has a will for our lives, and we stray from it, and end up having to tread down dark, dangerous and miserable paths—which he allows—in order to finally see him and what he had tried to tell us from the beginning. We look over our shoulders at the adjacent road we could have gone down: bright, warm, and easy, and chide ourselves for being so foolish. This is why I’ve decided to wait patiently and pray about where I should go next in my life, because the initial experiences of sixth-form and university were riddled with doubt, loneliness and concern, that I’d made the wrong course choices; gone to the wrong institutions; started in the wrong year. For once, I want to walk down a path with confidence that it was the right decision.

As we spoke, some extra thoughts came to mind. There are a few ways to deal with wrong choices: some go into crippling self-pity and chastisement, resenting and hating themselves to the point of depression; others get annoyed because they saw where they went wrong, but pray for wisdom for the next time. Although some times, when their decisions lead to failure, some people project their frustrations on others. “It wasn’t me; the reason I did this was because; if only so-and-such had acted differently”. We’re all guilty of this at some point: deciding not to own up and admit to what we did wrong because it’s easier to blame someone else.

God’s will doesn’t just refer to our careers, but every choice we make. I thought about the blame game we tend to play with ourselves and each other, and for the first time, I could actually envision the wicked, who didn’t make it into the New Jerusalem in Revelation 20, charging towards the city to fight God. This passage always befuddled me because I thought “who could possibly do that, wouldn’t they just be really sad that they didn’t make it?” But if so often, when our bad choices and wrong doings are put in front of us in the calmest of ways, our first reaction is to lash out, give the silent treatment, and make excuses, then what hope would there be for someone being faced with all the wrong decisions they had made that led them to be standing on the outside of the Ultimate Gift? They’d no longer be able to see all the measures God had taken to save them, they’d just see everything that everyone else did, that caused them to miss out on heaven.

The will is a scary and great thing. If we let our pride and ego get in the way, we’ll only make decisions for ourselves; we’ll live solely for our own interests; which will inevitably not only hurt us, but someone else. Furthermore, when these decisions cause problems, and we’re confronted with this, we’ll never admit to it, deciding once again to put the blame on others. I had this experience this week and it’s honestly the most frustrating thing: when you tell someone they’ve hurt you and done something wrong, but they’ve decided to be upset with you for reasons they can’t properly vocalise. But after reading and studying this week, I think I know what the problem is.

If we stopped engaging in this battle of wills, of self interest, and instead surrendered our wills to God, we’d all be walking down that sweet, easy road happily. But until then, we struggle through the brambles.

Unspoken

I said “help”

with closed lips.

Did you see my need
in the ways my clothes hung off my body
the way how I stood
like an old coat rack
that spends its years wasting
in a charity shop?

Was there a sign
in the late texts
that rattled your pillow as you slept
and the morning calls–supposedly innocent
only two hours after?

Was my desperation evident
in the absent prayers of general weather;
my eyes which could stare for hours at night time
the journeys I took inside my self in silence,
where my daydreams made more sense than reality
how I found it easier to speak to walls in my head
and rolled in uncomfortable fits of fidgeting and breathing
whenever I spoke to you?

You asked me: is everything okay?

I said
“no”

But my mouth didn’t open.

 

Untitled

There is a bruise on my arm.
A round of purple petals
once small and unimportant
like abandoned buds in winter
that failed to bloom for their time,
or the discarded sunbeam
of a daffodil in the middle of
fresh auburn, lost in
the funeral confetti of summer;
or as useless as
a Christian woman
who wants to be loved in the midst
of red, empty aisles.

What started as something stupid–
a blight of health,
as if I were lounging in doctors’ parlours
given injections;
leaving behind the dot of scarlet
on blue veins,
the unwanted leakage; like an unsightly stain
on the seat of a pair of jeans–

Has now blossomed like an inferno.
Congealed, like molten flesh
turning wistfully over a fire.
I ignored the apostle’s plea:
St Paul suggested union
to prevent the explosion of my self
and yet I continued
watching the offspring of forbidden gardens
bloom angrily on my sleeve.

And every time I move
I feel the pull on my arm
where a bruise was made against my Spirit.
A shawl; a jumper or robe
to cover–
but at night, when I’m naked in my bed
I’ll see the brand and wince at the reminder
of how unbearable I am.

Pity

For the first time in my life
I felt the 
                 Pitter Patter
of tiny hopes
in the form 
of a smooth
brown hand

Soft.
Like a freshly baked scone
also warm to the touch.
I sat with the child
while he read to me
as he did, 
his stubby fingers brushed against mine
half-clenched over the jagged edges of
his faded purchase
half-holding onto me
for approval.

With that touch
arrived the
                     Pitter Patter
as I began to need
like the wanted monsoon
after an early hosepipe ban,
his hand felt welcome on mine:
a stigmata of friendship
a sign of my peace.

The want for me 
to love something bigger than myself
came in the form
of a stranger’s boy
watching me serenely in the library
as I listened
to hear him read.

Falling

Once, I fell.

It wasn’t the frivolous fall
of times recklessly sleeping
only to stumble
–plummet
and wake in the
debris of bed sheets
and night time;
with the moon informing me
it was all a dream.

It was a fall totally different
from rolling in tarmac in playfields
or the psychedelic mess of ball pits
or the ethereal, almost spiritual
lolling between blades of glass
so that when you stand
daisies fall in your wake
as if your very shadow is
celebrating your existence
and you walk proud like a bride
and deliriously forget
that many years ago
you already divorced your life.

 

Once, I fell.
It was like an ill-fated plane that no one cared about
the signs of its doom clear,
like the bold steps of a crazy-paved floor.
The traitorous engine;
drunken pilot;
the scrap of metal on the runway;
all ignored
because sometimes, it feels good
to witness a downfall;
and wait in the wings of the airport,
binoculars ready
to capture the disaster
and replay it in your head.

So, I fell
and crashed and exploded in my mess;
carrying all the stories with me
that I wanted to keep secret,
but there is only so long you can run from God.
My heart was torn open
and the evidence littered the floor;
like a black box in the cockpit
my heart told the truth:
the safety checks that were vital to the survival of myself;
the junk that I carried around that made a puncture in my step
the careless people that watched as I began to limp
but did nothing to help.
The sin I carried like thunderclouds on my head
which pushed me
and spun me like the winds of turbulence
and I could do nothing
but stare
as the contents of my black box
was scattered before my eyes
and all those who had been fooled
by my pretence and lies.

 

So one day, I fell.
I was wreckage on the ground
the pictures had been taken
the revelations told with haste
the evidence laid bare in board meeting
of the drunken pilot that
destroyed a vessel supposedly going heavenward;
my presence was erased from
the departments I took part in
and my absence was felt
like a weight in the stomach.
I was left in this state
and almost washed away to shore…

 

But I noticed something.
A quiet rattling at first
the noise of childhood,
of beaded toys
and laughter
and the beginning of life
I found someone beside me,
knee-deep in my mess
welding the wings together
examining the engine to set it right;
windows were fixed
and tar mopped away;
This someone filled me with fuel again
worked all night
and didn’t go away
until I was better than before.
My someone, my Jesus,
filled me till I was running over
taking off,
and ready to fly again

Grief makes you Think

So, on the 25th April my grandmother died.

The last post I did is the poem I read at her memorial; her funeral was to be held in her hometown in Jamaica. I’ve just returned from Jamaica: the plane landed in London at around 10:30am on Saturday 18th May. It was a lovely trip: I learned so much and was able to think about a lot of things, things that will inspire many posts on this blog.

For a while now I’ve procrastinated with a lot of things. I’m scared of failure, I suppose. Additionally, the magnitude of all the things I want to do in my life daunt me and I fall back, hoping to find something easier to do. I want to make an app and have my own business; I want to write a trilogy; I want to run an online magazine, I want to start up a women’s charity. So many things, just one person!

Not only has the past two months or so shown me that life is too short to just think about good ideas, but it’s also made me more confident in myself, strangely, because God put many things on my path which has opened doors. When I went to Jamaica I made a friend who has emailed me the details of an upcoming conference on how to make your own app; it was on the plane journey where I was struck with the idea of a business; the lives of my now late grandparents has shown me that you have to step outside your comfort zone to do things, and that doing things to help others is a wonderful thing.

So today, I resumed work on the trilogy. I started researching more regarding the app… and I’ve set up the writing project (well, the initial part). The project is for women who want to share stories about their lives. I’m creating an anthology of women’s experiences of their personal ‘rites of passages’! For more details about it, how to submit and all other things, head over to this website. Please pass on the message–I need your help! It’s a huge project, but I have faith that it will work. Please pray for me, as I will for you.

There are two more things I want to do that I definitely need to start this summer also: some friends and I have spoken about a prayer ministry that I really hope can start soon, as well as a small decorating business to make extra change through our studies.

Lots of things, lots of faith: one huge God who can make it possible!

xXx

Night

The night fell upon us when she disappeared
I saw the world through the mist of my tears
The veil of sadness before my face
The oddity of loss and the strangeness of absence.
It felt like a red cloud in the middle of the sky
Or a missing star from Orion’s Belt

The night fell upon us when she disappeared
Cocooned in white linen;
Clean towels on a marble hospital bed
But she was healthy in hue:
Rich ebony; deep mahogany
My grandmother. Black Gold, wrapped in white radiance

Very much like a bold moon in the midst of a night sky.

The moon was full on the night that she left us
I looked up to the sky and asked God why
Why He took her then, on such a clear pretty night
And a hot sunny day
But the moon was comforting
It oozed peace, the same kind that crossed her face
As she lay there, almost sleeping, on the hospital bed.
She was so peaceful
Too peaceful to be alive
Too peaceful to feel the illness of life and the sadness of living
When someone you love has passed away.

The moon was out that night

An object that reflected the brightness of the stars
the offspring of the universe
Like a matriarch
Like grandma, injecting others with smiles

Or like a Pearl
a beautiful emblem encased in the black crust of an oyster
Iridescent darkness; glorious light
A comforting mix
A contrast of completeness

I was happy that the moon came out that night.

It reminded me of a pearl—and it made me think of grandma.

 

Pearl Jackson
04.04.1924—25.04.2013
See you on the Sea of Glass, Grandma
xXx

 

 

Lament

Once, I told you everything I knew.
I believed you could too.
Then an absence came
like a monsoon
to fill the ever widening gulf
that was always there
but remained unseen.
Once, you struggled.
You asked me about my life
I told you scraps
and you picked at them for a while
before leaving dry crumbs
on the cold pavement floor.
Once, you struggled.
I asked you how you were
because my blood was numb
I just wanted to know how you were
and you said
“I’m fine.”